License: All rights reserved. Credit: Will Rose

Q&A: Will the EU 2030 energy and climate targets be ambitious enough?

Christine Ottery
EU Energydesk editor. Previously worked for the Guardian and New Scientist.
License: by-nc-sa. Credit: Steve Morgan / Greenpeace

A leaked EU paper suggests that setting more ambitious targets between now and 2030 - including specific targets for renewables - may provide a greater boost to some parts of the economy than less ambitious objectives.

However analysts contacted by Energydesk suggest the EU is likely to opt for a more modest sole 40% carbon reduction target when publishes its policy recommendations on 22 January. It is also not known whether the commission will include targets on energy efficiency and renewable support.

The commission's recommendations will frame the debate on energy and climate in Europe and could have a big influence on the key climate summit in Paris in 2015.

The new targets will follow on from its 2020 GHG, renewables and energy efficiency targets and pave the way to cutting emissions by  80-95% by 2050.

A scenario where there is a 2030 GHG target of 40% cut and a renewables target of 30% seems unlikely with the UK is pushing to avoid a RES target, along with industry lobbyists.

So, what is going on and why does it matter?

Target confusion

There have been conflicting media reports about what targets will be proposed in the EC’s white paper due out on 22 January – as well as apparently contradictory statements from EU politicians and internal struggles within member state governments.

“EU sources” variously told Reuters the EC is considering a 40% GHG emissions/30%RES target; told Friends of the Earth that EC president Jose Manuel Barroso was considering a sole 40% GHG target; and told RTCC the EC is gunning for a 45% GHG reduction target.

Are flexible targets really targets?

Jos Delbeke, the DG of EC’s climate action, said in a speech last week: “We (DG Climate) are strongly convinced we need 3 targets in 2030: GHG reduction, renewable energy, energy efficiency.”

But when he spoke to Platts recently, he advocated a fixed GHG emissions target but a ‘flexible’ approach to renewables and energy efficiency.

Even EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, a stalwart supporter of strong targets, recently told Energy Post she agreed there should be renewables and energy efficiency targets but “You can construct it in different ways [and] create more flexibility for member states [though] and that’s what we’re analysing right now”.

Who is for ambitious targets, who’s against?

“Member states appear deeply divided,” says Reuters.

Germany, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and Denmark are the countries pushing for three targets, including one for energy efficiency. Poland, however, has said the EU’s 2030 energy and climate targets should be delayed until after a global agreement on climate change is reached – which is hoped will be in 2015.

The UK is the only member state saying it supports a 50% GHG emissions cut – but it doesn’t support a RES target. Also, a 50% target may not be what it appears: it’s conditional on similarly high targets being set internationally, Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies told RTCC.

The 50% target may also include 10% of international offsets, according to the UK government – ie a 40% domestic target – this could be as a concession due to UK energy secretary Ed Davey and chancellor George Osbourne not seeing eye to eye.

What are the consequences of a more ambitious policy approach?

According to the leaked impact assessment, which considering the impacts of different scenarios, a scenario that enables meeting 2050 GHG targets costs a small amount (0.15-0.84 percentage points higher relative to GDP) more than a ‘business as usual’ scenario. So-called 'enabling' scenarios could actually lead to moderate economic growth of around 0.5% of GDP, it notes.

Many countries in Europe are concerned about energy independence, including the UK and Poland, as shown by their recent respective dash for shale gas policies. In the EU as a whole, energy imports – mainly oil and gas - stand at 53%, “with imports to an important extent coming from geopolitically unstable regions”, the document says. 

Under a sole 40% GHG target, the projected reduction in energy imports is some 7% by 2030 and 44% by 2050 in comparison to the ‘business as usual’ reference scenario. More ambitious scenarios with a fixed RES target decrease energy imports by between 16 and 19% by 2030 and some 53% by 2050.

This is as a result of a higher use of renewables – which reach up to 60% of the energy mix in the most ambitious scenario outlined (45% GHG emissions reduction and 35% RES).

In addition, it is only when there are combined GHG and RES targets that solid fuels use (mainly coal) reduces in the long-term 2050 view. In the 40%-only scenario, solid fuel use falls in the short term (11% by 2030) but then increases by 7% by 2050. With either RES target scenario this falls by around 38% by 2050.

In the sole 40% GHG cut scenario, Europe would rely on CSS to decarbonise, with less demand for CCS in the RES target scenarios. A 40% GHG-only target could also increase Europe’s dependence on nuclear power, which is projected to increase by 17% by 2050 under this scenario compared to the reference scenario.   

The more ambitious scenarios also perform better with regards to creating employment, according to the impact assessment. Going down the 40% GHG plus 30% RES route rather than a sole 40% GHG target could almost double jobs arising (1.25m instead of 680,000).

In addition, a set RES target improves the public health impact of energy policy – from 4.2 million life years lost avoided by 2030 under the 40% GHG target and between 11-13 million life years lost avoided under the 40% GHG/30% RES or 45% GHG/35% RES targets.

Is 40% enough to prevent catastrophic climate change?

A sole 40% GHG target may not achieve keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celcius and avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to an analysis by Friends of the Earth Europe.

FOE analyst Brook Riley told Energydesk: “40% by 2030 is the Commission's milestone on the way to 80% by 2050. The EU's 80-95% objective comes from the IPCC's 450ppm scenario (4th IPCC, WG 3).

“Both the Commission (indirectly, via a special working party) and the IEA have said 450ppm means a 50/50 chance of going over 2°C. [Therefore,] 40% is a breach of the 2°C commitment.”

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